Mobility Skills Training Empowers Blind Mongolians

One year after Massey University Professor Steve La Grow initiated Mongolia’s first mobility training program for blind people, he returned to assess the program’s progress. He discovered that mobility training brought significant improvements to the lives of blind Mongolians who had previously been entirely dependent on their families and severely restricted in their movements outside of the home.
Sponsored by the Mongolian National Federation of the Blind and the World Blind Union, Professor La Grow traveled to Mongolia in 2012 to train six instructors to teach mobility skills to the blind.  Using what they learned during his visit, Mongolian instructors have spent the past year teaching orientation skills that include the use of mobility aids such as canes and sticks. During this time, nearly 50 people completed the four-week, 60 hour training course and gained a sense of safety and comfort in moving around independently.
According to Professor La Grow, “in Mongolia they had nothing, blind people were completely reliant on sighted people to get around, now those who have received instruction can begin to lead independent lives.” Before Professor La Grow’s mobility training program, blind people experienced severe restrictions to their movement. They relied on sighted family members to guide them, felt their way on their own, or remained isolated within their homes due to risks associated with venturing out into busy cities with their uneven walkways and heavy traffic.
2010 government census determined that Mongolia’s population of 2.75 million included 16,000 blind persons. Approximately 7,200 of these were adults of working-age; however, due to limited mobility outside of the home and inaccessible workplaces, 97% of these adults remained unemployed and dependent on government welfare benefits. In addition, nearly 5,000 of the blind in Mongolia were children who experienced limited to no access to education because of their disability.
Only one school for the blind exists in Mongolia. This school, located in Ulaanbaatar, educates only 84 of the country’s 5,000 visually impaired school age children. It employs blind teachers and produces texts in braille so that these students can receive an education that remains unavailable to the rest of Mongolia’s blind children. Other schools have no access to braille books or mobility tools that would allow blind children to attend. As a result, most of Mongolia’s visually impaired children remain uneducated. This lack of education further limits opportunities available to the blind once they reach working-age.
Although opportunities remain limited, thanks to the work of the Mongolian National Federation for the Blind and programs like that developed by Professor La Grow, conditions continue to improve for the visually impaired.
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